My head is still spinning a little from the whirlwind that was the Running Event. The Running Event is a four-day running extravaganza of sorts. All the biggest, best, newest, brightest, and hopeful companies are there to show off their new products for all things running and some that aren’t about running at all. I was invited down to Austin by my friends at ZEM, and I want to extend a big thank you to them for the opportunity. My two days of expo activity were exciting and allowed me to really see what’s out there, and I will tell you there is a lot! I also had a chance to finally meet some people face to face that I have been talking to through email for months and in some cases almost a year.
I was at the event because of an invite from ZEM to come and see the new models they have been working on. I have consulted with them for the past few months on their new running shoe design, and they had a prototype that was ready for the show. There was no way I would miss out on that opportunity so I gladly accepted the invitation and headed four hours south to the beautiful city of Austin, Texas. The event was bigger than I had imagined, and the minute I walked through the doors all I wanted to do was run around in circles looking at all the great products there.
My first stop was obviously the ZEM booth, and I was instantly pleased with what I saw. Their current lineup was well represented, but sitting right in front of me was the running shoe I had been talking to them about for so long. I will say this first: it’s a great looking shoe, and everyone that came by to see it instantly liked the looks. The sole that has been created for the shoe is a great design using some new technology, and I feel that you guys will really like how it turned out. The same features are there in terms of typical ZEM styling, but they’ve added a few new tricks as well as color options. The shoe is light, flexible, and, even though the one I ran around in is unfinished, a really good feeling shoe. I will have a full review of the shoe in the near future for you guys so stay tuned.
After I got settled in I made my rounds through the expo to see what all I could get my hands on. My first stop was the booth right next to ZEM’s, where I met the one and only Meb Keflezighi. He is working with a new company called Generation U Can, and I can tell you that you will be extremely impressed with both this company and its products. They are a new supplement company with a focus in the sustained energy department. Their current offering is a line of sports drink mixes that will keep you energized and hydrated through a special Super Starch that is outstanding! It lasts longer in the system and better manages both blood glucose levels and insulin. I’ve now tried it personally, and I can tell you it is all that is advertised if not more. No more gel packets every 45 minutes and upset stomach issues on runs for me anymore. Not only did I find a great product, the company is a great bunch of people, and I look forward to watching them take the market by storm. I also want to thank Meb for being so personable and just hanging out with me. It was a great inspiration and fun time to get to just sit around and chat with such a great athlete like we were old friends. I also purchased his book while I was at the expo, and from what I have read so far I can highly recommend it.
From there I had a very specific target booth that I found next, and that was the Altra Shoe Company. I have been in contact with them for about six months now, and I have been eagerly awaiting their new line of minimal shoes. There has been a lot of buzz about this new shoe company, and I am going on record saying that it is all worth it. The guys at Altra are a great group of gentleman who welcomed me with open arms when I walked up, even though I was technically there as a competitor. I spent more time at their booth than any other there because of the energy and atmosphere they created. I had a great time standing around talking philosophy and direction with all of them. Their products are at the top of my list for what’s in store for next year. Outside of the running shoe with ZEM I have not seen anything coming out that is close to what these guys are doing. I was able to try out two of the new models, and I did not want to take them off. The Adam is their true minimal offering, and it is possibly the finest minimal shoe I’ve come across, which is saying a lot. It was extremely comfortable and just felt right on my foot. The funny thing there is that the shoe was about a size too big because they didn’t have anything smaller than a nine with them. Even with it not fitting right, I wanted to keep them. The other shoe I got to try was the Instinct. It is more in line with conventional shoes except for three huge differences. The toe box is cut in the shape of the foot, so no pointy toe box, and that bad boy is by far the roomiest I have ever come across. The Adam is the same way. The second thing about the Instinct you won’t find anywhere else is the zero drop sole. This is pretty much the most important part of the shoe, and it’s amazing. Then there is the 12mm sole, which is very minimal compared to the average shoe, and it is also a very comfortable ride. All in all the Altra line is something that I will be following and enjoying with great enthusiasm in the future. Oh, they were also kind enough to send me out of there with a pair of the Instincts that I am already putting through the paces for a review, so again keep your eyes peeled my friends. Thank you so much Brian, Jeremy, and the guys at Altra for all of your kindness and wonderful products! I seriously cannot say enough good things about you and your company.
I spent time with Merrell and New Balance looking at their minimal offerings, and I walked away with a mixed bag of thoughts and feelings. Merrell welcomed me into their booth with enthusiasm, showing me the new line of minimal offerings. A vast majority of you minimal shoe lovers will enjoy what Merrell has come up with. It is comfortable, flexible, and stylish, which had me really interested in them. They have a zero drop sole that is really thin and well-constructed. The toe box looked slightly narrow, but I was assured that there is plenty of room and that I would really enjoy the feel. I’m looking forward to getting a pair soon from them so that they can back that up. New Balance, on the other hand, left me puzzled and wondering about what they have. Their new Minimus line looks great, but it’s far from minimal by the purist standards. The soles aren’t extremely flexible, which is fine, and they are also a thicker sole at 12mm in the heel, which is also fine. The biggest issue I see is the heel to toe drop that the shoes have as they are only 8mm in the forefoot. I love that thickness and would love to see the entire shoe sport an 8mm zero drop. They also have an arch bump in them for arch support, which is the mortal enemy of me and my minimal friends. I was unable to get a chance to try them on as I could not get anyone in the New Balance booth to talk with me on either of the two occasions I visited. New Balance, if you’re reading this I would love a chat!
Vibram had the entire new line of 2011 offerings in their booth, and I was so happy to get hands on experience with them. The new models are really nice, and I think you will really like them. The new models are geared towards being sport and activity specific, but I can see them being used for far more than their designed intent. This is nothing new to Vibram or Vibram wearers, as we have been doing that since the beginning. The people at Vibram were great and personable, spending all the time with me that I wanted. I was even able to enjoy a short conversation with Tony Post, the President of Five Fingers. He’s a nice guy who is passionate about the work he’s doing, and I have a lot of respect for him. In terms of running, the lace-up Bikila for next year will be a big hit. The addition of laces really adds a new level of comfort to the shoe as well as making it easier to get in and out of! The sole stays the same as the original so it’s more of an upgrade than a new design. If you’re a VFF fan you will enjoy what they offer you next year.
One of the biggest surprises for me at the show was the Invisible Shoes booth. That’s right, Invisible Shoes! As I stood there talking with Steven Sashen, the man behind the shoes, I kept seeing his “How to Make Your Huaraches” videos running through my head. He is a great guy, and his wife is a lovely lady who spent a lot of time with me talking about their direction and our common philosophies. If you enjoy wearing huaraches then you will really enjoy the new Invisible Shoes. They will have a lot of changes for the better in the next year like better and easier ways to create your own so they fit right and there is less guess work. They will be made from new rubber materials that I personally think work better than just cutting your foot print out of a sheet of rubber. Tabs extending off the sole where the lace holes are will also add a lot of durability, comfort, and fit to the new huaraches. Keep your eyes on these guys as they have a very bright future ahead of them being led by a great product. Thank you, Steven, for all of your generosity and hearty conversation when I twice visited your booth with all of my questions and thoughts.
Also on hand were a lot of great companies with wonderful clothing products like compression gear and temperature management materials. One such company that I was the most impressed with was Icebreaker. They are based out of New Zealand and use Merino wool in all of their clothing. I could not have been more impressed with their products. They are light, soft, and just feel great next to the skin. Thy have different weights of wool that you can choose from to give you the right amount of warmth or cooling depending on the climate you are in. The price tag is a little steep, but I will tell you it is worth every penny and maybe a few more. If I could, I would replace all of my running gear with nothing but Icebreaker apparel, and I just might. I have never felt anything like their clothing, and guys there is a great attribute to their clothing just for you – zero nipple chafe! That alone makes it worth it in my book.
Of course there were more companies there like Zensah, another great company that was very kind to me. I enjoyed some great conversation with Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee from Run Bare on more than one occasion during my two days there. They are very kind, enthusiastic, and excited people who represent barefoot running very well. It was great to see Michael running around without any shoes and people asking me how he does it. I also saw a lot of thick, cushioned, and bouncy shoes all over the place. I cringed at some of the things I saw on shoes in terms of over-cushioning as well as got a few laughs from watching people trying to figure out how to run in them.
All in all it was a great experience, and I am grateful for the chance to have been there. It’s a great and exciting time for the world of functional and minimal running that has me very excited. If you get the chance to go next year I say you should not hesitate, and I will see you there as I plan to make this part of my yearly schedule.